Product Development as Research for the Next Product
We enjoy research and development and take it very seriously here at HSI Sensing. While R&D is usually considered one business function, it was not until recently, though, that I started to think of research and development as two separate entities.
At the outset of an internal project we were focusing on the development side. In development, the concept is to launch a product. Our goal is to create something we can sell. Essentially, we look at the technology at our disposal and think about new ways to utilize it. We ask ourselves how we can use it to create something new, solve a problem that hasn’t been solved before or improve an existing solution.
Research is different. It is about learning. Research discovers something fundamental. Research looks for unanswered questions. The hope is that by learning the answer to these unanswered questions, we can look to use our newfound knowledge to solve a previously unsolved problem. By conducting research we are creating a library of reed switch and sensor solutions we can turn to later during development.
By focusing on research AND development we now work in both directions, from development back to research and from research to development. Development thinking is obsessed with market potential. The market demands products and innovations. It judges those products in terms of revenue and profitability. Considering a market opportunity leads to the product required. If this product is within reach using existing technologies and knowledge sets, the development journey can begin. If there is a fundamental gap in either the technology or our understanding, research is required. By stepping back and conducting the research, it can then be used to develop the product the market demands.
Research thinking asks fundamental questions about what might be or what the true capability of existing technology could be. It also involves the creation of something truly new. After enhancing our understanding of the existing technology or the creation of something new, then the dreaming of what we might be able to do with it can begin. These ideas are then tested for market fit and potential in order to choose a development path. Sometimes this can never be found. In some cases the time has simply not yet come.
In reality, this bi-directional thinking happens simultaneously during product management conversations. We constantly think about an innovation’s potential and what we understand about it. In order to generate ideas for products to develop, we think about what we really know about our product capabilities.